I was very close to my mother-in-law. She lived with us for the final decade of her life, and she often confided in me things that at the time I could neither understand nor imagine. This wizened little lady with the wrinkled face and the artificial hip had been a dancer, a balletic skater, and a pianist, bright and beautiful, and she would show me pictures and tell me with wonder that she felt no older at ninety than she had felt at less than half that age. This woman shaped by the Great Depression who had been widowed before she was forty years old talked about how sometimes her lawyer husband who had an office in the Empire State Building had to be content to be paid with a chicken because nobody had any money, and she marveled at how little any of what had been tragedies at the time had really mattered at all.
I turned seventy in August. I understand her better now. To my own wonder I am finding that old age actually is the best part of life! I hear Bertha’s voice in my mind so often as I realize that I feel even younger now than I ever felt when I was thirty, and I can look back at what at the time had been calamities and see them as nothing, or even as blessings. Perhaps my greatest source of amazement is this sudden awareness that life is so brief! It seems to have been yesterday that I saw my life on earth as stretching into forever, time and possibilities without end, while now I see perhaps one more decade of health, another decade of decline, and then graduation. How brief is each human life! How precious is every day that dawns and each blessed chance we find to be of some use.
When I was in my teens I wrote bad poetry. I wanted then to be a writer, but my father wanted me to be a lawyer so I could, you know, actually make a living. I did go to law school, and I’ve had such a wonderful career advising small-business owners that now I hope never to retire; but still, for my whole life I wanted to write. If it occurs to you wonder why an afterlife expert and Biblical scholar who loves to teach these glorious truths also is writing a seven-novel series that is shockingly racy in spots, perhaps now you’ll see that the teenaged writer I was is finally having her say.
At sixteen I wrote a two-stanza poem that expressed the frustration that I was then feeling. Many years later, as we cleaned out my mother’s house I came across that poem and wanted to complete it. Here, dear precious friends, is what I thought when I wrote the third and fourth stanzas is my whole life in one poem. As I enter old age, I realize that actually it is all our lives.
I paused to watch a darting speck
That flickered in the yellow breeze
And came to taste my daisy bed
And touched with gold my lazy trees
And blessed all I had done.
Although I had to turn my head,
I watched it as it fluttered by.
And though I had to work instead,
I ached to be a butterfly
And frolic in the sun.
Now fifty years have come and gone
Between that butterfly and me.
I’ve done what I set out to do,
But still my fondest memory
Is what I wouldn’t try.
I’ve had enough of cheap success
And superficial days and hours.
Now what I want is gentleness,
The joy of decorating flowers
And trembling in the sky.